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As You Like It

a Comedy
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 3524

SHOWING : September 10, 2009 - October 11, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

ASC opens its 20th anniversary on Peachtree Street with the pastoral comedy As You Like It. What will Rosalind have to do to find and keep her Orlando? Join us on a romp through the Forest of Arden where everyone from jesters to shepherds finds love.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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Balancing Act
by Dedalus
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
4.0
And, for my third excursion into the Forest of Arden in less than two years, come with me to the Shakespeare Tavern’s traditional approach! The result is a mixed bag – a hodgepodge of over-the-top mugging, genuine connections, underplayed moments, and almost-realized potential. Any “AYLI” should be a balance-beam stroll through the thin line of tragedy and comedy, and this one tends to wobble. As with the GSF production from a year ago, I left the theatre having enjoyed myself, but not especially overwhelmed.

For once, the political set-up and exposition were crystal-clear. The Duke has been banished by his younger brother, Frederick. Rosalind, the daughter of the banished Duke, has remained behind at the pleading of Celia, the usurping Duke’s daughter. The cousins have been dearest friends since the cradle, and one of the joys of this production is the squealing “we get to have a sleepover every night” friendship of the two.

As is usual, the first meeting between Rosalind and boy-genue Orlando is a lust-at-first-sight joy, this time infused with a very untraditionally contemporary sexuality, given new dimension by the interracial nature of the coupling. The meeting holds a lot of promise for what is to come.

The first note of unbalance occurs when we get to the Forest of Arden. Robin-Hood-esque costumes and pale gobos are all that separates these scenes from the court scenes, so the expected court/forest dichotomy is lost in the shuffle of comic schtick and over-the-top mugging. The Tavern’s traditional line-up and speak tableau blocking goes counter to the more fluid and informal nature of the forest setting.

Even more unbalance occurs by the seeming overimportance of Touchstone (the clown) and the seeming fade-to-background of the melancholy Jacques. In J.C. Long’s more than capable hands, Touchstone is the highlight of the production, bringing a joy of wit, a wallow in language, and a lust for life. His scenes with the wonderfully low-brow Audrey (Laura Cole) are a wonderland of laughter and invention. On the other hand, Drew Reeves gives Jacques a traditional reading that is competent, but little more. His “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy comes across more as an audition monologue than as an integral part of the play. He never gives a sense that there is more to his “melancholy” than frowns and sighs, shows no subtext for his bleak world view.

I also wasn’t especially impressed with the wooing scenes between Orlando and “Ganymede.” These scenes are played strictly for laughs, with none of the gender-confused subtextural attractions that should make them sing. More to the point, the dynamic attraction between Tiffany Porter’s Rosalind and Mike Niedzwieki’s Orlando promised by their first scene is never realized. The scenes are funny, yes, but not especially convincing in their portrait of a love going deeper than lust.

I do have to commend Tony Brown (as usual) for his twin portrayals of both Dukes. Without resorting to caricature, he was able to create two distinct characters who reacted in polar opposite ways towards those around him, the good Duke accepting and affectionate to all his co-exilees, the bad Duke deeply suspicious and jealous of everyone and everything.

Kudos also need to go to Dolph Amick for his musical interludes, and for his faux-macho Charles the “rassler.” The wistful and bucolic songs came at just the right times to compensate for the over-the-top comic shenanigans that threaten to topple the production, and Mr. Amick’s sweet voice went a long way towards selling them. Mary Russell was also fine as Celia, bringing an exuberance and comic timing to her scenes that did not go “over-the-top.”

As I’ve stated in previous reviews, “As You Like It” has always been a problem play for me, and no production has ever resolved all those problems to my satisfaction. This production resolved a lot of the exposition issues, but created more in that the ensemble of characters never fully “gelled.” Silvius and Phebe almost disappear completely, Rosalind and Orlando never go deeper than surface lust, Celia and Olivia are just an afterthought, but Touchstone and Audrey are the comic and emotional highlight of the show.

The Forest of Arden may be the great “equalizer,” but, in this case, it is a grossly overbalanced and unequal collection of couples, losing all the subtleties of the script’s dichotomies – lust/love, country/court, jealousy/affection, melancholy/joy – in a headlong rush to grab the cheesiest and cheapest laughs.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! The result is still a funny excursion into the joys of youth and love that seems brisk (even at almost three hours, when you count intermission, curtain speech, and let’s-wait-for-everyone-to-get-here delays). The interplay with the audience seems fresh, and they have the good sense to make a joke of the sudden “conversion” of the bad Duke at the end.

So, even though I spent most of this column nitting and picking, the bottom line is that there were aspects of this production that were very very good, and the rest of it was okay-but-I-wish-it-had-been-better. And that’s pretty much as I like it.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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